Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

I live in Leander Texas (near Austin), and a near by place where I can go for a nice hike is Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. Balcones Canyonlands is located northwest of Austin and is open to the public for hiking and sight-seeing during the day. The intended purpose of the area is to preserve habitat for some endangered birds, but there are a several trails for hiking as well.

Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge HDR
Wildflowers and Hiking Trails at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge HDR

Warbler Vista and Sunset Deck

Just off the highway near Lago Vista is a drive to some hiking trails and a sunset deck. I have hiked the trails a couple of times, but don’t find them as enjoyable as the trails at the Doeskin Ranch area. There is a nice sunset deck in this area that overlooks Lake Travis. You can see some fantastic sunsets here if you come on the right evening. The address for the entrance to this area is 21646 ½ E FM 1431, Marble Falls TX 78654.

Below is a photo that I took at sunset from the overlook. It is usually not very crowded at sunset and you can drive and park right close to the overlook deck. There are usually a few people taking pictures, but few stay for the after-sunset glow as seen in the photo below.

Sunset over Lake Travis Texas
View of Lake Travis from Sunset Porch at the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

I stayed until it got a bit darker one evening and took some long exposures to get some car headlight and taillight trails on the highway near the lake. See the photo below.

Long exposure clouds and highway lake travis
Long exposure car lights from Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge Sunset Deck

The hiking trails lead you to a few overlooks of the countryside and lake.

Doeskin Ranch Area

The Doeskin Ranch area is where the longer hiking trails are. I go to this area regularly to hike. There is a parking lot just off of FM1174. I have never seen it very crowded and it is a nice peaceful place to get away for a nice nature hike. The address to get to the Doeskin ranch area is 10645 FM 1174, Bertram, TX 78605.

Below is a trail map of the Doeskin Ranch area.

BCNWR-TrailMap

Creek and Waterfall

I usually take the Rimrock trail down from the parking area to where it crosses a stream with a small waterfall. Some people come to play and relax around this creek and waterfall and there are a few small trails that follow the creek. The first image below shows a long exposure (20s) of the waterfall with the stone step trail in the background. The next image shows the path across the creek.

Long exposure of the waterfall in the creek at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Waterfall in creek at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Stone path across creek at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Steps across the creek at Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife Refuge

 

Hiking Trails

Sign Post at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Sign Post at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

The Rimrock trail offers you two choices to climb the ridge to the other trails. They both switch back through the trees and offer a moderate climb. The following three pictures show views from this trail and my daughter on one of the benches on this trail overlooking the valley.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge sunset on hiking trail
View from Rimrock trail at Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife Refuge

Balcones-Canyonlands-National-Wildlife-Refuge-daughter-hiking-2

Along the main trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Central Texas
View from Rimrock trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

Once you reach the top of the ridge on the Rimrock trail, there are a couple of other trails to explore in refuge. The Shinoak trail is a an easy walk over even terrain that takes you along the top of the ridge and to the Indiangrass trail if you like. There are several places to stop and look down the ridge along the trail. You may see a few birds along the trail in the tall grass.

Bird among the grasses at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Central Texas
Nikon D750 +Sigma 70-200mm, f/2.8; 200mm, f/4, 1/800s, ISO100

The Indiangrass trail takes you back into some additional hills amid the tall grass. It is my favorite part of the hike mainly because it is very peaceful and few people come back to this trail.

Hiking trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Hiking trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Indian Grass Trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Central Texas
Indiangrass trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

The trail winds back and edges a small hill that is generally blocked from hiking traffic. Below is a picture of the hill from along the trail and a panorama that was shot on the Indiangrass trail and includes the hill in the background.

Hill in Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Central Texas
Hill along Indiangrass trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Panorama of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Panorama of Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

 

Wildflowers

During the spring wildflower season, there are a lot of wildflowers blooming in the NWR. Notably the Indian Paintbrush and many others that I can’t identify. The photos below contain some wildflowers common along the hiking trails in early spring.

Indian Paintbrush wildflowers at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Indian Paintbrush at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Yellow wildflowers at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge Texas
Yellow wildflowers at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Blue wildflowers at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge Texas
Blue wildflowers at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

The Long Grass

One of my favorite things in Balcones Canyonlands NWR is the long golden grass, especially how it looks during the golden hour before sunset. I have tried to capture the beautiful grasses in the photos below, but they are much more enjoyable in person.

Golden grass in late afternoon sun at Balcones Canyonland National Wildlife Refuge
Long golden grass in the evening sun at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Long exposure grass in wind Balcones Canyonlands NWR at sunset
Long exposure of the golden grass at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge lonely tree
Wildflowers, tall grass, and a tree at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

 

There is another observation deck on FM 1869 for bird watching. I have not spent much time at this observation point.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge is one of my favorite nearby places to go and have a peaceful hike and enjoy the breeze. It is a bit hot in the summer, but I bring some water and enjoy it anyway. There is usually something interesting to see along the way. It really is a nice secret in the area that few people seem to know about.

Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge Indian paintbrush wildflower
Indian Paintbrush at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge

 

You can find blogs that I have written about Balcones Canyonlands NWR here.

Perhaps I’ll see you out there.

Dead tree and wildflowers along the hiking trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge
Dead tree and wildflowers along the hiking trail at Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge